Confessions of a benefits manager: Must do better

A performance review rating of ‘fair’ puts Candid’s nose out of joint and has her contemplating what might have gone wrong

Despite everything that’s wrong with this job, and, as you know, there is plenty wrong with it, it is a long time since I actually considered leaving. But strongly considering it, I am. In the interminable years I have been here, I have never been as demotivated as this.

I know I am being silly. When other people bleat about a bad performance review, I have little sympathy. I mean, no one ever looks at an appraisal again or does anything about it, so what’s the big deal? However, now it is my own performance review in question, I feel rather differently. The words cut deep, I can tell you.

Big Bad Boss was quick to tell me it is not a bad review as such. We have a five-point scale and he put me in the middle rating, called ‘fair’. In any other year, this would be fine with me; I’d be the first to admit I don’t strain myself for exceptional results. In fact, it might even be reasonable now, if it were true and, er, fair. But it isn’t fair.

You see, last year I exceeded all usual mediocre expectations, working overtime and sacrificing holiday, to complete certain key strategic projects. It was these same strategic projects that actually saved the company millions. Yes – millions. And for all that, I get told that my performance is merely fair. Huff. Huffy huff, in fact.

And it gets worse. I am told that the reason I didn’t get a higher rating, despite exceeding my goals and doing the corporate equivalent of solving world peace, is my poor behaviour. Poor behaviour? It’s enough to make me want to go and slap someone. Two behavioural traits have been cited as needing improvement. The first is teamwork. Given that my team consists of Big Bad Boss, who plays golf all day, and Lazy Susan, who spends most of her time on Facebook, I think I do a remarkably good job of any teamwork. I am a team all on my own, single-handedly. But it is a difficult accusation to argue against. How do you prove you are good at teamwork if half your team says you are not, and the other half wouldn’t even understand the question? I guess I’ll have to let that one go.

The other excuse for downgrading my rating is driving change. Apparently, I don’t relentlessly drive change enough. Well, that’s rich. I suggested dozens of changes, but they were all squashed by Big Bad Boss. Just how relentless can you be when the Higher Beings aren’t interested in anything that might mean they have to leave the golf course early? Any ideas Big Bad Boss actually supported (generally because they didn’t cost anything), were stopped by Chuck, his new manager. Chuck thinks the only good ideas are Chuck’s ideas.

So, looking back, I don’t see what I could have done differently in terms of behaviour. Well, apart from that day I left a conference early to go shoe shopping, but they didn’t mention that.

There is, of course, something more sinister behind this performance review. As usual, it all comes down to money. Show me the money, and I’ll show you a dysfunctional HR process. When the five-point rating was introduced, we also reintroduced a performance-related bonus scheme tied to it. So it really does matter what rating you get.

In the past, we had a forced rating distribution, which meant you could only give 10% of the population a good rating, and had to give 10% of the population a bad rating. This caused mass hysteria in the ranks, who argued, rightly, that the company encouraged good performance and did not necessarily have bad performers in thatquantity. Indeed, we had a special programme to make sure we didn’t. Anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in the bottom rating, by remarkable coincidence, also found they were on the next redundancy list.

After a few years, it is harder and harder to find anyone bad enough to give the bottom rating to, and managers are more and more reluctant to hand them out.

Now we don’t have a forced distribution, oh no, that would upset everyone far too much. Yet there is a covert distribution, cunningly disguised as bonus budgets. Because bonus budgets are fixed, giving a high rating will create a high bonus which will, in turn, blow the manager’s budget unless he gives two other people a bad rating/bonus.

Big Bad Boss can do the maths. He earns double what the rest of us make, so if there is to be enough left in the budget for Chuck to give him a good bonus, he has to downgrade everyone he possibly can, for whatever spurious, trumped-up reason. And who can blame him?

Well, I do blame him. But I also blame myself. Actually, I am paying the price of my own mistakes. You see, when the performance-related bonus calculation was designed, I did argue against it being a formula based on a normal distribution. I did argue for a budget cushion to cover the fact that distributions of ratings never are normal in real life. But really, I have to confess I didn’t argue hard or long enough.

Perhaps Big Bad Boss is right: maybe I didn’t relentlessly drive change after all.

Next time…Candid gets a hard sell on a benefits system.

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